Think of the following paper-based workflow: you’re working at your desk when an idea comes to you. Maybe it’s something you need to do, someplace you need to be, a book you want to read, a new recipe you want to try this weekend, or a character trait you want to develop. Whatever it is, you don’t want to forget it, but now is not the right time for it.
You reach for a slip of paper from a small stack you keep next to your inbox tray on the corner of your desk. You write down the idea, put the slip in the inbox tray where you can process it later, and get back to work.
It’s textbook GTD. Your brain had an idea. Instead of trying to hold it there until it was time to act on it, you wrote it down to process it later. Mind like water.
It’s a clean and simple workflow. If you plan digitally, there’s an app for that! Meet Drafts, the unusual text editor for iOS from Agile Tortoise.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / kaseyj
Our brain is where we think thoughts. It’s also where thoughts go to die.
You see, our brain has one job: keep us alive. As our need for Survival is satisfied, we start exploring ways of staying alive more efficiently, improving the quality of our lives, and helping others stay alive. The moment our Survival is threatened, however, our brain sets all that aside and reverts to its primary mission.
There’s one problem: our brain is terrible at distinguishing between different types of threats. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is physical or emotional. If it threatens any of our basic needs, our brain will invoke the same fight-or-flight response to get us out of danger.
When you have the idea to do something bold, you have five seconds to act on it before you brain will shut the idea down.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX
The One Password You’ll Ever Need to Remember
If I don’t have to memorize something, I prefer not to. Albert Einstein said, “Intelligence is not the ability to remember information, but knowing where to find it.” In Getting Things Done, David Allen wrote, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” I’m in good company.
I used to devote an inordinate amount of mental energy to remembering passwords. I tried to follow the recommended practices of incorporating numbers and punctuation and never reused passwords across sites. I would take something distinct about the site as a mnemonic and derive a unique-but-relevant password. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I reset a password only to retrace the same steps into the mind palace and arrive at the same password I had set before. (I know this because some sites don’t let you reset your password to what it was.)
Then I met 1Password. Now I delegate (almost) all of my password concerns to it, freeing up my attention to focus on what I need to do instead of the details of doing it.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Tomasz Zajda (and 1Password)
Let’s say you need to return a book to the library by Saturday, June 24. If possible, you’d like to return it a few days early while you’re out running errands. Simple, right?
Most task managers can’t handle this. They only have one way to schedule the task: set a due date on it. But which date do you put down? It’s due on July 1—that’s when you’re going to have consequences if you don’t get it done. But you want to do it on Wednesday, June 28.
Most apps can’t handle this simple scenario. You have one field. You need to know the due date to plan properly. You can’t sometimes use that field to schedule tasks or you will never trust your system again.
My two favorite task managers handle this just fine: OmniFocus and my Franklin planner. OmniFocus has a defer date which lets you schedule tasks for a specific date, keeping the due date and the do-it date separate. This is a good start, but it’s limited.
How do you schedule a task for the week of July 17? Or 2018Q1? Or sometime next June (June 2018)?
Here’s how to configure OmniFocus to schedule tasks as powerfully and flexibly as a Franklin planner.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Igor Negovelov
After I finish writing a blog post, there are still 43 things I need to do to publish it. Some are pretty trivial, but they still need done.
I used to worry about making mistakes. Several times, I published a post without adding a more tag (
<!-- more --> — it’s a WordPress thing), or with an empty link (
<a href="">), or at an oddball time (right day, but 3:47 pm instead of midnight). Once, I even forgot to schedule the post at all—I left it as a draft.
None of these were a big deal and each was quickly and easily rectified. It was, however, increasing the cognitive load to publish a post, stressing me out, and making it take longer than I wanted it to.
So I did what any self-respecting productivity nerd would do: I solved the problem one last time by making a checklist.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Andrey Popov
I’ve loved tear-off stationery pads as long as I can remember. You know the ones—they’re like Post-It Notes with a form printed on them. Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists, babysitter instructions… Once, my parents bought a “While You Were Out” pad to keep by the phone in the kitchen. I was thrilled.
Paper is powerful, and stationery pads give you a starting point to help you quickly create a powerful little document, sometimes as little as 3″×3″. You knew you wouldn’t miss something because you had a template. All you had to do was fill out the fields.
Fast-forward to today. The world is much more digital now but we have a lot of the same workflows—meeting agendas and minutes, quarterly reports, envelopes… Have you ever started a new document by creating a copy of and old document? You know how helpful it is to have a template to start from instead of starting from scratch every time.
Did you know the Mac has a built-in feature that lets you turn any document into a digital stationery pad? It’s a great way to get a jump-start on any workflow.
Photo Courtesy of © Adobe Stock / aleks_g
One of the fundamental concepts in GTD is the context. As David Allen explains in Getting Things Done (2015) (emphasis his):
[The] best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it.
In other words, contexts are a way of marshaling the many things you need to do so you can focus on the few that you can take action on right now.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / praphab144
My children love to help me scan. They love opening the lid to our ScanSnap S1500M and hearing it whir to life. They love putting papers into the document feeder (though I usually insist on doing that part), pushing the glowing blue button, and watching the scanned documents slide out the bottom. They’ve learned that if we’re doing a lot of scanning then it saves time and effort to bring the wastebasket over to the desk. They enjoy the whole process and occasionally fight over which one gets to help me. The only part they’re happy to leave to me is touching up and filing the scans in Evernote.
The other week, I grabbed a cutout heart my daughter had made in preschool. She shrieked and snatched it away from me. “No!” she cried, clutching it to her chest. “I don’t want to scan this! I like it!”
It seems I’ve taught them the mechanics of scanning, but they haven’t yet learned why we scan.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / maxsim
This is a hammer. It pounds nails. It’s very good at it.
Once upon a time I tried driving a screw into drywall with a hammer. I had the hammer close by, I didn’t want to go track down a screwdriver, so I ignored the threads and treated the screw like it was a nail. It went in surprisingly smoothly, all things considered. I was well-pleased that my laziness had paid off.
…for about five seconds. Then I discovered that the screw came back out even easier than it went in. I didn’t even need the hammer for that. In the end, my laziness just created more work. I had to track down a screwdriver and some drywall anchors (after learning what drywall anchors are) and finish the job the way I should have started it in the first place.
Email is a tool. It does some things well. If you misuse it, you’re going to cause more work for yourself.
Here are five tools you should be using instead of seeing every situation as a problem email can solve.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock / cosma
Back in college, my roommate and I both wanted to be able to make changes to the account with the utility company, so we made up answers to their challenge questions that we would both know.
There was a problem, though. Because none of the answers were derived from actual facts, it could be an interesting exercise at times to walk through the mind palace to remember the answer we had used. When it came time to disconnect the phone, I spent close to an hour with them, verifying that I was who I claimed to be, because I couldn’t confirm my mother’s maiden name. Once I had established myself, we reset the code word to a known value (her real maiden name) to replace the made-up one (“Bondi”, the color of my roommate’s first-generation iMac).
Security questions are even more common today. Web sites want an automated way to let you—and only you—get back into your account if you forget your password. Since it’s an automated system, you not only need to remember the answer but often exactly how you typed it. Did you use capital letters? Punctuation? Which security question did you even pick?
Fortunately, password managers can remember more than just your password. You can use 1Password to also track your security questions. For bonus points, you can even make up insanely strong answers that no one is going to guess.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Christian Delbert